How do you unpack general existence since the last “normal” Gopher football game at the Outback Bowl back on January 1st of what we didn’t yet know would be The Pandemic Year? I haven’t really tried yet. It’s a lot, and it’s way too much for a last-minute, impulse-driven post on a sports blog that will be seen by tens of loyal readers. Enough has been written on the events of 2020-2021 by people far more talented than me and I don’t even want to read THOSE. We’re all yearning for something that existed before. Thing is, it probably won’t be back like it was, but maybe that’s not all bad. If beating SEC teams in January 1st bowls is going to be the nEw NoRmAl, count me in.
I am going to indulge in one paragraph of personal reflection. Last year sucked. Remember how gray and cloudy January, 2020 was? Just awful. Worst month ever. Then some other stuff happened. I felt cheated and angry at for so many things I cared about and was looking forward to being ripped away. Simultaneously I felt extremely guilty about that because I knew I should be grateful it wasn’t worse. I lost my dad, not to COVID but to cancer, and I lost precious time with him because I couldn’t risk being in the same room with him and getting him sick. I was unreasonably angry that my family couldn’t visit us in the hospital when my son was born. Work took over every aspect of life; hard year to be in healthcare. We missed out on holidays, couldn’t introduce our son to the world like we wanted. Crushing anxiety, frustration, loss of whatever faith I still had in humanity. But the pandemic didn’t take anyone from me…my family is as well as it could possibly be. We have shelter, employment, money in the bank, and a child who deserves to see the beauty in life and not focus on the pain. A lot of people, hundreds of millions, have it so much worse.
What I gained from this was realizing that my anger and sadness were still legitimate even if they weren’t as serious as those faced by others. Feel it, accept it, but maintain perspective and don’t allow it to dominate your being. You’re not obligated to put your time and treasure into fighting bad-faith from others; it’s ok to detach here and there, to take care of yourself and come back. You have to be good for yourself to be able to be good for others. Have some grace, I guess is what I’m saying. Maybe someone can say it better than me. If it’s you, please direct your blog proposals and drafts to Frothy.Gopher@prodigy.net. He needs better help than me.
One thing navigating this past year has done for me is focus my mind and heart on what I truly value. If anything, I have a much better grasp of who I am than before all this happened. Call it a sense of purpose, acceptance of your place in the world, whatever you want. What I know is that the detached “LOL none of this matters” approach I’ve taken for years was not only misdirected but was a defense mechanism against dealing with reality. All of this matters; it matters a lot.
I found solace in things that used to matter to me once upon a time. A lot of things suddenly felt meaningful that hadn’t excited me for years. On the flip-side, missing out on college football hurt less than I expected, and it made me wonder if I still cared as much as I thought I did. I felt (and still do) that the cautions taken were warranted. Did this…do sports…really matter?
Well, the final thing I gained was the solid confidence that the answer is “Yes.” Slowly but surely the sense of community it’s always given me is coming back, like we never left. Stats, prognostications, tailgate plans, somehow finding agreement with Iowa and Wisconsin fans on something (Nebraska). It feels like a song you haven’t heard in a decade but you still remember all the words, but in a way that’s beyond repetition. It sparks memories, who you were with, the happiness you had, the trouble you got into, even the smell of a college house party. It all comes flooding back and you’re home.
Today the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on the Ohio State
Buckeyes in front of fans for the first time in 19 months. It might not be the
most talented team we’ve faced since
TCF Bank Huntington Bank Stadium
opened but it’s probably pretty close. The likelihood we’ll win is extraordinarily
Regardless of the outcome, I’ll be ok and so will you. We’ll all be with our friends, our family, and our friends who ARE family. We’ll share in a communal experience we’ll value with even greater intensity than before. A lot of us will be puddles multiple times during the day. That’s ok too; embrace the feelings both good and bad. They’re a gift and we’re all so lucky to be able to feel them.
And who knows? Maybe we’ll have more reason to be happy than we think.
After all, as they say, hope springs eternal.
Ski-U-Mah, Row the Boat, Go Gophers.